When it comes to World War II shooters, the Call of Duty franchise has led the charge in recent years. When Activision first announced Call of Duty was coming to the PSP however, I had my reservations. Would the series’ trademark intensity translate to Sony’s handheld system? The answer, to developer Amaze Entertainment’s credit, is yes, but not without a few bumps on the road to victory.
In line with previous Call of Duty installments, Roads to Victory lets you experience the events of World War II from several Allied perspectives, with distinct American, Canadian and British campaigns all surrounding the Normandy breakout campaign. The American campaign makes up the bulk, with seven of the game’s fourteen missions, including one particularly memorable assignment that sees players aboard a B-24 Liberator, manning the belly and nose guns shooting down German planes. The remaining land-based missions feature a variety of environments and objectives, such as retrieving and delivering documents, destroying artillery, clearing out bunkers, protecting convoys and generally ridding France of the Krauts. In total, the 14-mission campaign will last about 6 hours, depending on the difficult setting you select.
The bumps I referred to earlier stem from the controls, and ultimately have a trickle-down effect on other areas of the game. The default control scheme, the best of the four available options, works as follows: the analog stick controls movement while the four face buttons are used to look around. The direction pad is used to crouch or go prone, cook and throw grenades, swap and reload weapons, interact with the environment, and hold your breathe when using the sniper scope. The right shoulder button is the attack button and the left shoulder button is used to aim down the sights. It’s not an uncommon layout for shooters on the PSP, but it has its drawbacks. For instance, you have to stop moving in order to throw a grenade or reload your weapon.
To compensate for the control constraints, the developer has built-in a generous auto-aim feature. When a German soldier comes into range of your weapon, the reticule will center on the Kraut and turn red, indicating that he’s been targeted. At this point you can simply fire your weapon or perhaps better, aim down the sights for a headshot. The problem here is that you really have to be close to the enemy for the auto-aim to lock on, unless you’re carrying a sniper rifle at which point it’ll lock on at just about any range.
Since the combat in Call of Duty is so intense and the controls less than ideal, the developers further compensated by dumbing down the enemy AI. As a result, the German soldiers are slow to react and when they’re not behind a stationary gun such as the MG42, they’re also pretty terrible shots. To make up for their ineptitude, when an enemy soldier dies, another one often respawns and takes his place. In fact, there are moments when the game relies on unlimited enemy respawns to keep up the intensity of battle. I said it in my Call of Duty 3 review and I’ll say it again, I don't like the notion of unlimited enemy respawns. I feel it’s a shortcut for challenging gamers. There’s one scene in particular that got my goat. It’s the last scene in the game and not to spoil the ending, but the final objective lies immediately beside a few of those unlimited respawn points, creating an ultimately frustrating finale.
Unfortunately, Roads to Victory does not include online multiplayer. It does offer various game modes via the Ad Hoc wireless connection but unless you’ve got up to 5 other friends who own the game, you’ll have a hard time making use of it. Supported game modes include King of the Hill, Deathmatch and Capture the Flag, each available as solo or team-based affairs, with 8 levels and four weapons to select from for each the Axis and Allied sides.
Visually, Call of Duty: Roads to Victory is not only a very good-looking game on the PSP, but the load times are surprisingly minimal. There are a few loads required as you progress through some of the levels but they never equate to more than a few-second wait. Oddly, you can’t save mid-level so if you quit during a mission, you’ll have to restart from the beginning of said mission the next time you load up the game. The audio is equally as impressive, with a nice military-themed soundtrack, solid sound effects and decent voice acting. If anything, a few more of those 1940’s movies would have helped guide the storyline a little better.
Call of Duty: Roads to Victory is a tough one to call. For me, the controls are the root of the game’s issues in that they’re not ideal for a combat intensive game like Call of Duty. To compensate, the enemy AI is dumbed down. To compensate for that, enemy respawns, sometimes in unlimited numbers, are used. It’s a trickle-down effect and it’s a shame because the presentation is solid and the mission design is excellent. I think Call of Duty fans will be satisfied with Roads to Victory but if you’re one of those PSP gamers that doesn’t feel shooters play well on the system, this title likely won’t change your opinion of that.